'I am really, genuinely sorry': Hockey
The Treasurer has gone on radio to apologise for suggesting the “poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far”.PT0M0S 620 349
Veteran Liberal Party campaign strategist Toby Ralph says the Germans have a perfect word for Joe Hockey's car crash of a week: schlimmbesserung. It means an attempt to make things better that only ends up making things worse.
Ralph, who worked on all of John Howard's election campaigns, says the Treasurer's biggest mistake wasn't trying to defend a rise in fuel excise by saying the ''poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far in many cases'' in a midweek radio interview. It was the fact Hockey first attempted to defend his comments as statistically accurate - citing the total amount wealthy households spend on petrol.
It was only after two full days, and a slapdown from the Prime Minister, that Hockey gave a full-throated apology.
Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares.
''Yes, the ABS has statistics that actually back Joe's assertion, but that's not the point. It was so clumsily expressed that he should have recanted immediately,'' says the crisis management expert. ''He's gifted himself to Bill Shorten as a punching bag.''
Lachlan Harris, former chief press press secretary to Kevin Rudd, agrees: ''Everyone makes mistakes in the heat of the battle - the big mistake for me was the initial defensive reaction.
''Politics is not a statistical game, it's an emotional game. It was a dopey remark that should have been realised straight away and corrected.''
The first rule of backflips, Harris says, is you have to make them as quickly as possible.
This would have helped prevent damaging follow-up stories – including tabloid splashes on the "chauffeur-driven" Treasurer's supposedly lavish spending on taxpayer-funded travel. In fact, at $26,256, Mr Hockey’s car entitlements for the past six months of 2013 were less than half that of fellow senior ministers Warren Truss, Christopher Pyne and Scott Morrison. Wayne Swan spent twice as much on car travel in his last six months as treasurer.
Communications consultant Jane Caro says the problem with Hockey's gaffe was that it reinforced beliefs he is out of touch with low-income earners - an image personified by him smoking a cigar outside Parliament House.
In his apology on 2GB on Friday, Hockey used the words ''sorry'' and ''apologise'' eight times - and his voice carried genuine emotion.
''All of my life I have fought for and tried to help the most disadvantaged people in the community,'' he said.
''For there to be some suggestion that I have evil in my heart when it comes to the most disadvantaged people in the community is upsetting.''
But Caro says the apology ''felt too much about him rather than the people who are affected''.
''People don't think he's evil; they think he doesn't understand what life is like for those on low incomes.''
The gaffe has sparked debate within the Liberal Party about the quality of advice Hockey is receiving following the departure of three of his most senior advisers since the federal election.
''There definitely needs to be a toughening up of the political process to make sure these things don't happen,'' a Liberal insider said. ''There needs to be less ideology, less fighting about nothing and more experienced operators in the offices.''
Harris says Hockey can recover from the gaffe because there is no sense of dishonesty or impropriety about him.
Ralph says Hockey's best shot at redemption is passing some big savings measures.
''There's always a temptation to overcompensate after an image crisis like this, and be seen dishing out meals at soup kitchens or caught handing out blankets to the homeless, but the worst thing he could do would be alter his behaviour.
''Time and authenticity are on his side, so he should simply tough it out and focus on fixing our overspending.''
Given the unruly nature of the crossbench, of course, that's no easy task. And Hockey's budget itself is unpopular.
A poll of 1400 women by cosmetic company Heat found only 13 per cent of respondents felt positively about the budget while 62 per cent felt negative and 25 per cent indifferent.
Seventy per cent felt the budget would negatively affect their standard of living.
Defends a co-payment on GP services by saying
“my electorate of North Sydney has one of the highest bulk-billing rates in Australia and I have one of the wealthiest electorates in Australia”.
In fact, with a bulk-billing rate of 70 per cent, North Sydney is among the lowest bulk-billing areas in Sydney.
Channel Nine airs footage of Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann smoking cigars outside Treasury after putting the finishing touches on the May 13 budget. The image is widely lampooned on social media.
Caught offguard by Laurie Oakes when asked why he was dancing in his office to the song Best Day of My Life by the group American Authors before he delivered his budget speech.
Accused of being patronising when he compares the Medicare co-payment to beers and cigarettes: “One of the things that quite astounds me is some people are screaming about a $7 co-payment. You can spend just over $3 on a middy of beer, so that’s two middies of beer to go into the doctor.”
Incorrectly tells a chronic disease sufferer on Q&A that they would not be affected by the $7 co-payment. The Australian Medical Association quickly rejects the claim, saying chronic disease sufferers will have to pay.
Takes a week’s holiday in Fiji during the first sitting week of the new Senate.
Warns he is ready to bypass Parliament if Labor and the Greens oppose budget savings, sparking accusations the government plans a new round of tough spending cuts.
A biography by Madonna King reveals Hockey wanted the budget to be tougher and carries quotes from his wife that he will never again trust Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull following the 2009 leadership spill.
Liberal insiders accuse Hockey of being a whinger after he says “everyone is against me at any rate”.
Says a proposed increase in fuel excise will not hit the poor as hard as the rich because they “don’t have cars or actually drive very far”.